There are two ministries responsible for security forces in the country. The MHA has under it all Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) and the only Para-Military force, the Assam Rifles, which officially operates under the army. The MoD controls the armed forces and the Coast Guard.
The method of functioning and approach adopted by the two ministries, are vastly different, when it comes to procurement, expenditure and decision making for the welfare of the forces they are responsible for. While one moved forward, caring for those it is responsible for, the other acts as a stumbling block, seeking to deny and degrade, rather than being positive.
Post the Pulwama strike, the MHA came under intense pressure for multiple failures leading to the incident. Failures included moving a large convoy and lack of security along the route, as the area in which the attack took place was under CAPFs for road opening. No heads rolled for any failure. Instead the response was positive.
The MHA immediately granted permission for movement of all troops by air to prevent a large target being presented to militants. It also enhanced the risk element for the CAPFs from R1H2 to R1H1, which implied an increase in their allowances.Both these decisions were announced by the Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, himself. It boosted the morale of the force immediately.
In contrast, the army which operates in the same environment and is the main force leading anti-terrorism operations in the valley continues to be covered under the R1H2 risk factor. The minimum the defence minister could have done was take the cue from the MHA and issue similar instructions. Whether it is due to bureaucratic delays or her own lack of influence, it is difficult to state. Her claims that she cares for the armed forces appear to be just hollow.
Post Uri and Pulwama it was the armed forces which upheld the standing and prestige of the nation by acting against Pak and forcing it to hide casualties. Pak remains on tenterhooks even at present, scared of another strike. For this the armed forces received words of praise, nothing else. All its demands remain unactioned and blocked by the MoD.
Recently press reports state that major purchases to equip the army’s special forces is being delayed due to differing views within the bureaucracy of the MoD. The situation is such that special forces are stripping machine guns from decommissioned battle tanks or using weapons recovered from terrorists. A poor state for a nation which expects its special forces to launch cross border operations. Further, a country which has the capability to destroy satellites in space is unwilling to provide equipment to its own forces is truly a joke.
Since the bureaucrats, involved with procurement decision making, are neither responsible for national security nor held accountable for lapses in capabilities, they are never in a rush to push military demands. The defence minister, busy with electioneering, apparently has ignored the army’s demands or considers it at a lower priority.
The MHA on the other hand moves much faster. Post the Pulwama attack, the weaknesses noticed have already been addressed. A recent announcement by the MHA states that it is already procuring small 30-seater buses which can be armour plated and additional Mine Protected Vehicles. This requirement arose post the Pulwama attack on 14 Feb and the procurement decision announced in less than a month.
The apex court announced NFFU / NFU to all members of the CAPFs on 05 Feb 19. In little over a month the case has already begun moving forward. Letters for adopting the correct approach as per instructions are already doing the rounds. Follow up meetings are scheduled for early Apr. With this decision the only force which has yet to be granted the same are the armed forces, the arguments remaining ditto as in the case of the CAPFs.
Instead of accepting this reality, gaining goodwill of the military community and reducing the dislike which the MoD has earned, it has continued to fight the case. It has created an environment of reverse. In earlier years, the CAPFs sought equality with the armed forces, which remain disadvantaged as their pensions are the lowest, since an army jawan retires early. In the present context it is the armed forces which are now fighting for equality with the CAPFs. While retirement ages cannot be debated, there are other factors which could be.
Thus, while the MHA has shown its independence and moved ahead granting the CAPFs benefits beyond what the military gains, the MoD still battles its own in reducing status, denying its dues and ensuring that despite its tough role, it will remain below all others in financial terms. Is this because being a junior minister she is hampered by being unable to take decisions or that her own bureaucrats are placing blocks in decision making.
Instead of accepting its faults and seeking to change, the defence spokesperson issues a statement on social media claiming that the NFU case is being blown out of proportion by the media. It quoted wrong details of statements of the pay commission which were immediately countered, to prove to the nation that the MoD is falsely justifying its position.
The leak of a classified document from the MoD on the Rafale case ruffled no feathers within the ministry. There has been no suspension, no action against individuals responsible for its safe custody, while the MoD states in the supreme court that the leaked document places national security in jeopardy. However, subsequent inactions show that the MoD considers national security to be a joke and this ministry is responsible for national security.
Just because the armed forces have never let the nation down, given it multiple reasons to be proud, governments have taken them for granted. They have been denied equipment, allowances and rightful dues, solely because they lack a voice and trust the political leadership. They are considered second class citizens by their own ministry. Even when some approach courts for justice, rather than accepting the reality, the MoD challenges them.
Till recent times, the defence ministry was considered one of the most important ministries of the nation. In the last few years the nation has witnessed defence ministers hopping chairs, being junior to the extent that they cannot take decisions on their own and bureaucrats posted who are mostly self-serving and seeking to protect turfs while grabbing more power, without much concern for national security and rights of the armed forces.
The defence minister claims to be micro-managing the ministry and taking all decisions, but the reality emerging is that she may not even be in control. If she claims to be in control, then the negativity flowing from the ministry is her doing.
This brings forth the questions. Does the nation need a bureaucratic MoD which has continuously failed on most fronts, as multiple Parliamentary Committee reports have pointed out? Do we need an MoD, battling against whom has become a larger priority for the Chief’s than handling national security? Why cannot the MoD also have a positive outlook as the MHA has. Does it need defence ministers who are oblivious to the imperative needs of the armed forces?
It is time for the national leadership to wake up, project in their manifesto’s that they will consider national security as priority, ensure reorganization of apex management of defence and reduce the shackle which the MoD holds over the armed forces by amalgamating them. Will political parties take this plunge?
Disclaimer: The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of N4M Media.